Dark horse France made it three straight wins after an effervescent performance by point guard Tony Parker lifted them to a 76-65 victory over Germany at the European basketball championships on Friday.
Serbia also maintained a perfect record with an 89-80 defeat of Israel, while former European champions Italy kept alive their hopes of reaching the second stage after center Andrea Bargnani inspired a 71-62 win over Latvia.
Hosts and 2003 winners Lithuania won a see-saw battle against Turkey 75-68 in Group A, where holders Spain cruised to an 86-69 win over Britain and Poland topped Portugal 81-73.
Germany forward Dirk Nowitzki, who led the Dallas Mavericks to this year’s NBA title, drew first blood in his personal battle against Parker in the Group B game, scoring seven of his team’s first nine points to give them an early 11-6 lead.
However, it was Parker, himself a triple NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs, who stole the show after he came to life and stunned the Germans with an irresistible offensive arsenal.
He finished with 32 points, including 15 in the third quarter, scoring from lay-ups through a packed German defense as well as from long range.
Shooting guard Nicolas Batum added 14 points for a French team, which held Nowitzki to 20 points after he made just five of his 13 shots from the field.
“We struggled in the second half and found it difficult to get the ball to the basket and keep up with the French, while Parker produced a paramount achievement at the other end,” Nowitzki told Germany’s Sport 1 television.
Italy, the winners of two titles and four times the runners-up, were staring at early elimination from after trailing Latvia at halftime as they relied almost entirely on Bargnani to keep them afloat in Group B action.
The Toronto Raptors center responded with a heroic solo effort, scoring a tournament-high 36 points along with seven rebounds to give his team a fighting chance of reaching the second group stage.
The Italians need to win their remaining two preliminary stage games against France and Israel and hope that other results go their way if they are to advance to the top 12, featuring two groups of six.
Serbia trailed by 12 points midway through the third period of their Group B match when an on-court skirmish appeared to ignite their comeback against a plucky Israel.
Forward Dusko Savanovic poured in 24 points, center Nenad Krstic scored 18 and Marko Keselj added 15 as the trio collected seven rebounds apiece for Serbia.
Spain followed their opening wins over Poland and Portugal with a comfortable defeat of -Britain in which Pau Gasol and his younger brother Marc combined for 39 points.
Los Angeles Lakers center Pau scored 21, while Memphis Grizzlies forward Marc chipped in with 18 against one of the tournament’s underdogs, whose Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng had 25 points, including a three-pointer from midcourt.
The first real test of Spain’s credentials will come today, when they clash with Lithuania in a mouth-watering contest between the event’s top two contenders.
Power forward Ersan Ilyasova scored 10 first-quarter points as Turkey led 35-32 at halftime in Panevezys, but Lithuania, roared on by a passionate home crowd, turned the tide after the interval with a balanced team effort.